Miguel Penha, Igarapé / Amazon Biennial
Miguel Penha, Igarapé. Photo: Patricia Rousseaux

By Vânia Leal*

I was born on the banks of the Amazon River, in Macapá, in Amapá. Being a countryman strengthens the bond I have with the Northern region of Brazil because this river was the first that took me to sail through other waters that brought me to the first Amazon Biennial. An event that begins with approaches to the place itself and invites us to a discursive construction about the complexity of different ecosystems that form the biome, such as dense dryland forests, seasonal forests, igapó forests, flooded fields, floodplains and pioneer formations that, naturally, they constitute the multiple times of the Amazonian space.

Debating and reflecting on art in the Amazon requires understanding this geographic space from different times and environments. Based on these differences, Brazilian geographer and writer Milton Santos becomes a personal inspiration when he talks about times where different temporalities coexist simultaneously. It is with this reference that I follow the journey attentive to the urgency of rethinking and decolonizing the art space as a place that can be occupied by bodies of diverse artists, understanding Brazil's intercultural perspective. 

Valuing the production of artists in the Amazon here and now is also highlighting an Amazonian body of multiplicity of indigenous peoples, blacks, Afro-indigenous people, riverside caboclos, women, quilombolas, LGBTQIAPN+ bodies and other artists who are embedded in the forest. All with different nuances combined with a personal language, which enhance this art space – not as a sealed environment, but as a territory of occupation resistant to colonial processes and which potentially reinvents itself with the dialogue between cultures, which does not take place in a void of social relations and power.

In addition to the richness of Amazonian biodiversity, the cultural diversity that exists in the North stands out. A reality that should make us aware that there are Amazons and Amazonians and the challenge of thinking of the region as an extensive humid and complex tropical forest, with an area equivalent to 8 million km2, as if it were homogeneous, implies making invisible ecosystems inhabited by different peoples and their ancestral territorialities, which combine their own experiences with the environments of their places of origin.

The place of the artist producing art in the Amazon with the feeling of belonging to the place, with attitude and looking from the inside out, creates different experiences of artistic practices. Each one comes with intrinsic knowledge that sometimes happens through tension, violence, intimacy, closeness and distance. Endless narratives that make visible their political and cultural potential without rigidifying their ways of life. The narratives are not fantasy, they are real.

In this sense, the biennial points out that it is essential not to waste the great collection of knowledge and technological complexes of the people who inhabit the Northern region of Brazil. Investing in pluriculturality is necessary, in the dialogue of knowledge and practices for any project for the future of the Amazon. It is important to highlight that knowledge and intimacy with nature for the people who live here is a condition of living. There is no doing without feeling and knowing. 

Evna Moura, Brazil, Pará, Orí from the series “Água”, 2017. Photoperformance
Evna Moura, Brazil, Pará, Orí from the series “Água”, 2017. Photoperformance.
Photo: Patricia Rousseaux

Amazons at the Biennial

Given this, the importance of 1st Biennial of the Amazons by bringing visibility to what the Amazons have designed and produced with artists already established in the arts circuit and others with new productions that are emerging. The event opens paths for timely decentralization of production and enjoyment for all regions that comprise the Amazon as a transcultural territory, with potential for constant exchange of experiences with other places in the country.

From this perspective, the representation in the production of artists from the Brazilian Amazon territory – in the cities that are part of the Amazon territory provided for by law (Legal Amazon), which make up this edition of the event, is in no way based on a unique and alien history. Thinking about this possibility is reinforcing an exoticized regional imaginary supported by semantic oppositions that do not fit. 

For example: center and periphery, because the day will come when we understand that there is no “center” and, as the writer and Brazilian art theorist Ariano Suassuna says, “around the hole, everything is an edge”. Another important point of attention is to persist in thinking about the existence of Amazonian artistic practice as something aesthetically modeled. Such statements, in addition to leveling the multifaceted cultural and territorial differences, are the trigger for colonial thinking. 

I believe that making visible the political, social, intellectual and cultural potential of artistic production in the Amazon is a necessary premise on the agenda. Trying to standardize art produced in the Amazon is taking the opposite path when it comes to the relationship with nature. Artists, Amazonian peoples and forest spirits are guardians and models and relationships do not matter. They position themselves as interlocutors in any debate about the future of the region and the world. After all, art teaches us to see and strengthens existence.

In turn, the artists launch an invitation to discover the pulsating life of these territories. Understanding the way of being of the people here is the beginning of this journey to listen and experience the endless stories that overflow in the songs, pajelanças, homemade science, prayers of the healers, alternation of tides, colorful festivals, forests, waters, smells, dances, women erveiras and many other significant experiences. As a Tucuju cabocla from Amapá, I reinforce our loving desire for us to be in communion. It's what moves me in art and in life.

*Curator of the first Amazon Biennial

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